Futurist Bob Johansen is a distinguished fellow with Silicon Valley-based think tank Institute for the Future (IFTF) and the author or co-author of 12 books, including Leaders Make the Future, The New Leadership Literacies: Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything and Full-Spectrum Thinking. His next book, Office Shock: Creating Better Futures for Living and Working, tackles a subject every CIO I talk with is grappling with today: the office upheaval created by COVID-19.\n\nAs Johansen points out, the upending of the traditional office has created opportunities to reimagine how and where office work can and should be done. It also opens new possibilities for human connection in more meaningful ways. Even in a highly uncertain future, we can make smart choices to create better ways of living and working, he says. But first, we\u2019ll need to reboot our expectations about where, how, and why we work.\n\nJohansen joined me on two episodes of the CIO Whisperers podcast to unpack the implications of office shock and \u201cofficing\u201d on the future of work and to explore how CIOs can think from the future back to make better decisions today. He also discussed the skills and qualities that will define those companies that are able innovate quickly and get early mover advantage. What follows are highlights from those conversations.\n\nDan Roberts: You often talk about the discipline of thinking \u201cfuture back.\u201d Can you share more about what you mean by that?\n\nBob Johansen: It\u2019s so noisy in the present, and companies are just struggling to get by, so they are relying on the means of the past. What we\u2019re teaching is that, especially in these highly uncertain times, if you go out to the future and think backwards\u2014think future back\u2014it\u2019s actually easier to see where things are going. And it encourages you to be clear about direction but flexible about execution. So, it\u2019s still a very noisy present, but at least you can have clarity of direction.\n\nThe big question CIOs are asking is right now is when should we go back to the office. But you say that\u2019s not the first question they should be thinking about.\n\nIt\u2019s a reasonable question, but for us, it\u2019s number six out of seven of questions we\u2019re asking. The first question is, why do you want to go to the office in the first place? What\u2019s the purpose of the office? I think that\u2019s where you need to start. And when you think future back, you can begin to see how offices can be exciting places with purpose, enabled by new ways of working, empowered by new technologies to achieve real impact.\n\nBut question number one is, why do you go to the office at all? Purpose is so important, particularly in a VUCA [volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous] time like this. There is new research that we talk about in our work from the Blue Zones project that says purpose-driven people are happier, healthier, and live up to seven years longer. Purpose-driven people who work for purpose-driven organizations are happier, healthier, and live up to 14 years longer, and the companies perform better. Purpose is so key to all of us, and the office certainly plays a role in our personal sense of purpose and also our community sense of purpose. So, there\u2019s a spectrum from the individual purpose to the community or the social purpose.\n\nCan you also talk briefly about the other questions CXOs should be asking? \n\nThe second question is, what are the outcomes you aim to achieve by officing? Shareholder value is the kind of classic spectrum, but increasingly, companies are being asked about social value, or community value. The third is impacts and, in particular, climate impacts. It\u2019s not enough to say zero impact. The question now is, is your office regenerative? That\u2019s going to be increasingly important over the next decade.\n\nThen we ask, how will you extend or augment the intelligence of your office? Because if you take the future-back route ten years ahead, we\u2019re all cyborgs, we\u2019re all augmented by digital aids in some way. HR won\u2019t be able to isolate the human from the digital resources. So, over the next decade, we\u2019ll need to answer the questions of what humans can do best and what computers can do best.\n\nThe fifth question is, with whom do you want to office? What\u2019s the right mix of people? You can think of this as the future of diversity and inclusion. It\u2019s obvious, thinking future back, that we\u2019re going to be extremely diverse ten years from now in our offices. The question is, how can we be purposely different, because we know diverse teams are more productive and innovative. Diversity is here to stay, so how do we embrace that? Inclusiveness and belonging are the hard part.\n\nAnd now we get to the question of where and when. The spectrum here is from physical offices to the metaverse, and it\u2019s really going to be a meta, meta metaverse. It\u2019s going to be a nested network of networks with increasing blended reality potential, and the kids are going to be much better at it than we are.\n\nThe last question is, how do you design an agile and resilient office so you can be flexible in how you respond to the VUCA world.\n\nYou have a trilogy of books that delve into the leadership skills, literacies and mindset leaders need for the future. Could you talk about what inspired those and highlight two or three skills that CXOs should be particularly focused on right now?\n\nIt began with my first visit to the Army War College, where I was introduced to the concept of VUCA. That prompted the ten skills to thrive in the VUCA world. I realized, however, in using it, that skills weren\u2019t enough, that it required literacies or practices, these five disciplines. But then I realized there\u2019s also a mindset that you need to thrive. I wrote the last book in the trilogy, Full-Spectrum Thinking, about that ability to think across gradients of possibility instead of just labeling and categorizing the way that many people do nowadays.\n\nRight now, I think clarity is the most important skill. In a VUCA world, you need to be very clear about direction, but very flexible about execution. You can\u2019t be certain. The future will reward clarity but punish certainty. Certainty is just too brittle.\n\nThat leads us into the reality of the present time, where we\u2019re so polarized in thinking, and that\u2019s very dangerous. As leaders, we have to calm things down and look for common ground without getting stuck in the polarization of one side is right and one side is wrong. Again, future back thinking helps, because if you look long, you can find your zone of clarity, you can find your common ground and what you do agree on, and then pursue that instead of arguing about what you don\u2019t.\n\nThe third is what I call dilemma flipping. A dilemma is a problem you can\u2019t solve and it won\u2019t go away, but you can make it better. If you\u2019re a leader, especially if you\u2019re a C-suite leader, you don\u2019t get to solve problems anymore. The people who work for you solve the problems. So, you\u2019ve got to deal with the dilemmas, and if you\u2019re not sure if it\u2019s a dilemma or a problem, you\u2019re better off assuming it\u2019s a dilemma, because if it turns out to be a problem, you get extra credit because you solved it, and they didn\u2019t think you could solve it.\n\nWe\u2019re going through so much disruption and transformation, with the pandemic layered on top of it all, but there will be winners\u2014those who are able to innovate and get early-mover advantage. What do they do differently?\n\nIt\u2019s a readiness game. You can\u2019t predict, but you can practice to make you more or less ready.\n\nThat\u2019s where simulation and gaming comes in. You have to be able to anticipate the future and then try to create safe environments so you can practice in low-risk ways.\n\nThat\u2019s part of the problem with where we are now. We weren\u2019t at all prepared for Covid, even though we should have been. The risk was obvious if you look future back. The surprise was how poorly we reacted to it. Our minds are ripe for simplistic solutions, and in a VUCA world there just aren\u2019t any. You\u2019ve got to be able to engage with that uncertainty and be clear about whatever you\u2019re investing in.\n\nThe IFTF is the longest-running futures think tank in the world, and it\u2019s had quite an impressive track record over these 50-plus years. How would you describe the work that the IFTF does?\n\nWe call what we do a forecast, which is a plausible, internally consistent, provocative story from the future. Nobody can predict the future, so the way you evaluate a futurist is, does the foresight provoke insight that leads to a better decision? We\u2019re not advocating any particular future, but we are advocating the value of thinking future back and the value of strategic foresight. Some of the future we\u2019re forecasting right now around climate, around pandemics\u2014I hope they don\u2019t happen. But the insights that come out of it, that\u2019s what we go for. We\u2019re independent forecasters, and we want to provoke your insight, whether you agree with our forecasts or not.\n\nWhen you think of the innovators of the future, what do their reimagined offices and officing look like?\n\nThe first word that comes to mind is flexible. Everything\u2019s going to have to have flex. I use the term \u201cshape-shifting organizations.\u201d Hierarchies come and go, boundaries are more porous, they\u2019re part physical, part virtual. I think the more digital we become, the more we\u2019re going to value in-person experiences, particularly for onboarding and renewal and trust building, but we\u2019re not going to be able to do it as casually as we used to be able to do it, and there will be ongoing precautions. We\u2019ll be moving in and out of this for the foreseeable future, and we\u2019re going to have to have offices that have that kind of flex. That means you\u2019ve got to get really good at virtual, so that\u2019s a real challenge for a lot of leaders.\n\nThe second thing that comes to mind is deeply digital. As I mentioned, we\u2019re all augmenting already. The question is, how do we get from here to there? Right now, we have human resources and information technology. In ten years, we\u2019ll have human-computing resources. Every HR person should be deeply digital and really interested in gaming, video gaming, simulation\u2014that\u2019s going to be the learning medium of the future.\n\nI\u2019m not as concerned about artificial intelligence. A lot of futurists think there will be cases where humans are replaced by computers, but that\u2019s not the big story. The big story is humans and computers doing things together that have never been done before. Tom Malone at MIT calls these \u201csuper minds,\u201d and that\u2019s what leaders are going to have to be. So, if you think of that kind of office, it\u2019s really a flexible, shape-shifting office of super minds. That\u2019s my aspirational scenario.